Exercising in the evening offers greatest health benefits for people with obesity

A major study has found that evening exercise has the potential to bring the best health benefits for people with obesity.

Research involving 30,000 people over eight years found that those who undertook most of their moderate to vigorous physical activity between 6pm and midnight had the lowest risk of early death and death from heart disease.

Those behind the study say helping people with obesity plan their exercise into certain times of the day “may best offset some of these health risks”.

How regularly people exercised at a moderate to vigorous level during the evening was also found to be more essential than how much they exercised in total throughout the day.

The findings support the idea that those with obesity or diabetes, who experience glucose intolerance during late evening, could counterbalance some of that intolerance with physical activity at this point in the day.

Data was provided via wearable devices, with researchers analysing moderate to vigorous physical activity that lasted three minutes or more. This type of exercise has been linked to lowered cardiovascular disease risk in comparison to shorter sessions that are non-aerobic.

Dr Matthew Ahmadi, National Heart Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney, said: “We didn’t discriminate on the kind of activity we tracked, it could be anything from power walking to climbing the stairs, but could also include structured exercise such as running, occupational labour or even vigorously cleaning the house.”

Dr Angelo Sabag, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University of Sydney, explained: “Due to a number of complex societal factors, around two in three Australians have excess weight or obesity which puts them at a much greater risk of major cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and stroke, and premature death.

“Exercise is by no means the only solution to the obesity crisis, but this research does suggest that people who can plan their activity into certain times of the day may best offset some of these health risks.”

The use of wearable devices has so much potential for research, the team says.

Senior author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, Director of the Mackenzie Wearables Research Hub, said: “It is a really exciting time for researchers in this field and practitioners alike, as wearable device-captured data allow us to examine physical activity patterns at a very high resolution and accurately translate findings into advice that could play an important role in health care.

“While we need to do further research to establish causal links, this study suggests that the timing of physical activity could be an important part of the recommendations for future obesity and type 2 diabetes management, and preventive healthcare in general.”

The research team warned that they could not rule out reverse causation – the possibility that some participants did not do as much moderate to vigorous physical activity because of underlying illness.

Read the study in full in Diabetes Care.

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